Comparing Challenges


One of the most important features in the game of Survivor are the challenges. Whether for immunity or reward, winning challenges can give tribes and/or individuals a huge advantage in the game and be vital to a castaway's survival. Over 30 seasons we've seen challenges that have tested strength, endurance, logic, patience, balance, memory, aim and a whole range of other characteristics. In today's feature article Ozlet Jarrod Loobeek looks at a couple of challenges that have been used across multiple seasons and gives his thoughts on what happened each time around. Click for more!

As a fan of the show, one of the main elements I love about Survivor are the reward and immunity challenges. While 30 seasons into the show it’s always nice to see the production team create brand new challenges that test the physical and mental ability of the castaways, it’s also interesting to see classic challenges return every so often. In what will hopefully become a recurring feature article, I’ll compare challenges used in multiple seasons and look at what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved in the future. For the first article of the series I’ll look at two of the more physical pre-merge challenges that both debuted in Survivor Palau.

Survivor Sumo

Most commonly known as Sumo at Sea, this challenge has featured in five different seasons and requires contestants from opposing tribes to square off in an attempt to push one another off a platform using padded bags. The first tribe to score a predetermined number of points wins immunity or reward.



The first ever use of this challenge and it didn’t fail to disappoint. In a first to six battle, Koror built up a comfortable 5-2 lead through the wins of Tom (twice), Greg, Coby and Janu before Stephenie, Ibrehem and Angie were able to level things up for Ulong. In the deciding round, James once again faced off against Coby, trying to reverse the results of their first battle. As it came to be, history repeated itself in more ways than one with James losing again and Ulong heading back to tribal council.

Challenge Highlight: Angie’s famous celebration of “We’re not going back to immunity…tribal council” is a standout.

Best Battle: Stephenie and Jenn’s second battle was a great tussle that had plenty of changes of momentum throughout.



Following the pattern of this season, the challenge saw Moto dominate and hand the Ravu tribe yet another loss. For the first time this challenge was held on land with the platform built on top of a mud pit. Despite some show boating and trash talk between the tribes before the challenge began, this rendition of Survivor Sumo is arguably the least exciting. After a succession of quick one-sided rounds Moto builds up a 6-0 lead before Yau-Man beat Stacy in an unusual mixed gender round to score Ravu’s only point. Moto won reward the very next round taking the challenge 7-1.

Challenge Highlight: Rocky’s outburst before the challenge where he challenges Dreamz to verse him in the first match-up.

Best Battle: Lots of quick victories in this challenge, probably either Dreamz vs. Rocky or Yau-Man vs. Stacy for lasting a slightly longer amount of time.

Heroes vs. Villains


Of all the times this challenge has been run, this would prove to be most one-sided with the Heroes winning every single round to win reward/immunity comfortably. Despite the 8-0 scoreline there are some close match-ups, with Coach pushing Rupert off the platform only for a redo due to a rule violation. Getting to watch so many All-Stars face off more than made up for the lack of suspense over who would win.

Challenge Highlight: There are so many to choose from including the Heroes over the top celebrations after their wins, the Tyson and J.T. interaction before and after their battle and the whole James vs. Randy segment. Perhaps the most enjoyable though is Coach’s premature celebration followed by him flipping Probst the bird before being told to “take that anger and point it to the pirate, not me.”

Best Battle: Plenty to choose from here but in terms of intensity it’s hard to go past Colby vs. Boston Rob. Boston Rob had some great recoveries to stay on the platform and both players gave 110%, clearly not worried about hurting themselves in the process.

Blood vs. Water


In a first to five wins challenge, points were initially traded between the tribes with Tadhana holding a narrow 3-2 lead before any of the loved-one match-ups. Tyson had injured his shoulder in the last round and it looked as if the newbie’s might finally win a challenge. Unfortunately for Tadhana, Galang would go on to dominate the next 3 bouts with Tina defeating her daughter Katie, Aras defeating his older brother Vytas and Laura Morett defeating her daughter Ciera to claim another victory for the returnees.

Challenge Highlight: Tina laughing at her daughter Katie losing her match against Laura Boneham and during their own battle later on.

Best Battle: The battle of the Baskauskas brothers. From the bully/junkie vs. golden boy build up, to Vytas’s cheap shot at Aras and the eventual emotional victory, the whole sequence is great entertainment.

San Juan Del Sur


This challenge works well in blood vs. water seasons as the loved one match-ups provide plenty of different dynamics and loads of entertainment. Of all the times Survivor Sumo has been used this was arguably the closest with the tribes trading points back and forth. Along the way John Rocker bloodied his nose and Baylor split her lip after a collision with Missy. With both tribes level at 4 all it was down to a rematch between Kelley and Jaclyn to decide who would win immunity and reward. Although Jaclyn won their first battle, Kelley was able to turn the tables and keep Hunahpu’s winning streak alive sending Coyopa straight back to tribal council.

Challenge Highlight: Drew cheering for Josh and having to be told by Jon that Reed was actually the player on their tribe.

Best Battle: For me it’s a toss up between Missy vs. Baylor and Jon Misch vs. John Rocker. The battle of the Johns is intense from the start to finish but the mother and daughter match-up provides both drama and laughs via Baylor’s injury and the smack talk about Missy’s exes.


Best Use: In my eyes this challenge delivers each and every time it’s used. From narrow challenge victories like in San Juan del Sur to complete blowouts like in Heroes vs. Villains, Survivor Sumo is able to remain entertaining no matter the scoreline. It’s difficult to pick a favourite iteration from this bunch as each have their strong points but based on the many memorable match-ups and lines it provided, I’d have to go with Survivor Palau.

Suggested Improvements: It’s hard to think of any particular faults with the way this challenge is currently played. Sometimes there are major mismatches in terms of the pairings e.g. James vs. Randy in Heroes vs. Villains but for the most part these one-sided battles can’t be helped and there are usually some dream match-ups to make up for these. Given there have been injuries the last two times this challenge has been played (Tyson and Baylor) things could be tweaked slightly for safety but overall it’s a good tough challenge in its current form. I do think the slightly bigger platforms used in Palau, Fiji and Heroes vs. Villains tend to provide more interesting battles so I’d suggest consistently using these.

Hot Pursuit

Run under multiple names during its four separate appearances, Hot Pursuit starts with tribes tethered together at opposite sides of a circular course. Individual tribe members each carry a set weight as the tribes attempt to work together to catch up to the opposing tribe by racing clockwise around the course. Tribe members may drop out of the challenge periodically but they must distribute their weight to another tribe member before they exit. The first tribe to catch the opposing tribe and either tackle or tap one of their members wins the challenge.



It’s great to have a pre-merge challenge based on endurance and this challenge didn’t fail to deliver a gruelling test in its first appearance with each contestant carrying a 20 pound sandbag. Nursing a sore ankle Jeff was quick to drop out for the Ulong tribe though despite this they made up ground early after Caryn took a couple of falls, slowing down Koror before she opted out. Despite their slow start, Koror quickly regained their composure as the challenge came down to a 3 vs. 3 battle between Tom, Gregg and Ian for Koror and Stephenie, Bobby Jon and Ibrehem from Ulong. The Koror group played smart making small gains each round during the shallow section of the course to eventually catch Ulong and win immunity.

Challenge Highlight: Stephenie being the sole female left in the challenge and toughing it out against the men.

Challenge MVP: Tom for Koror and Bobby Jon for Ulong.

Cook Islands


This time run under the name Steeple Chase, competitors each carried 15 pound sandbags. Despite the weight reduction both tribes made the decision to have their women opt out early, with only Rebecca lasting a significant period of time in the challenge. With both tribes down to just men, the challenge simply became a case of Raro having the majority of the younger more physically fit males. Despite Aitu trying to make a final stand against the Raro, J.P. was able to easily tackle Cao Boi and win the challenge for Raro.

Challenge Highlight: Yul giving up on trying to catch the opposite tribe and instead simply trying to give Raro a fight and make it tough for them to tackle an Aitu member.

Challenge MVP: J.P. for Raro and Ozzy for Aitu.



The only time this challenge has not been conducted in the shallows of the ocean with the contestants racing around a dirt track instead. In another change, instead of players carrying individual sand bags, each tribe worked collectively to carry a large cloth snake weighing 200 pounds. Kota looked to be in control of this challenge from the outset gradually gaining on Fang each lap of the course. Despite Fang staging a slight comeback after dropping out Kenny and Sugar, the weight soon became too much for the tribe and they once again began to struggle. Just a few laps later, with 5 out of their 6 members still going strong (Susie dropped out) Kota were easily able to track down and catch the remaining Fang duo of Matty and Ace and end the challenge.

Challenge Highlight: Not a whole lot of exciting moments, Fang doing better with fewer members is slightly funny, plus Dan’s blatantly obvious commentary is humourous and Ace trying to keep his pants on at the end visually sums up Fang’s ability in challenges this season.

Challenge MVP: Marcus for Kota and Matty for Fang.


Tubby Lunchbox

One of the most one-sided of the Hot Pursuit challenges, this iteration had players carry 20 pound sand bags which saw the Gota tribe dominate the physically weaker Bikal group. Phillip in particular struggled, refusing to run and costing Bikal any chance of gaining on Gota. In the end Gota only needed a few laps to catch Bikal losing just one member along the way (Sherri) while Dawn, Cochrane and Julia opted out for Bikal.

Challenge Highlight: Brenda’s cheering from the sidelines or Gota constantly asking Phillip for permission to run only to be told that the girls will tire.

Challenge MVP: Erik for Gota and Corinne for Bikal.


Best Use: In any endurance challenge you want to see players have to work hard for the win and truly suffer. This means the longer the challenge the better and unfortunately each time this challenge has been used the teams haven’t really been on a level playing field physically. As with Survivor Sumo this is a case of the original being the best with the challenge in Palau at least being edited to look like it lasted a fair while longer than the other outings of Hot Pursuit. Plus you’ve got some standout  performances from people like Tom, Bobby Jon and Stephenie throughout the race which really adds to the intensity of the challenge.

Suggested Improvements: I think the real issue with this challenge is how it usually comes down to solely the more physical men with the women typically dropping out early on. Perhaps the weight can be adjusted to a percentage of body weight to try and level the playing field and prevent it from becoming so male dominated. Otherwise this challenge could potentially work on a shortened course featuring a series of rounds with the players competing in gender specific pairs or trios instead of as a whole tribe. There’s plenty that could be tweaked to turn a good endurance challenge into an excellent war of attrition.


 What’s your favourite version of each of these challenges? What do you consider to be the highlights? What other classic challenges would you like to see compared? Let us know your thoughts below!


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4 Comments on Comparing Challenges

  1. This was good! I wish you did analys on more than 2 challenges! Good Article!

  2. You have to analyse the challenge with the poles (perhaps one of the most used ones?)

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Comparing Challenges – Part 2 | Survivor Oz
  2. Comparing Challenges – Part 3 – Survivor Oz
  3. Comparing Challenges – Part 4 – Survivor Oz

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